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Cricketing community raise awareness of oesophageal cancer symptoms in memory of Ray Illingworth

Cricketing community raise awareness of oesophageal cancer symptoms in memory of Ray Illingworth
Cricketing community raise awareness of oesophageal cancer symptoms in memory of Ray Illingworth
©Heartburn Cancer UK
 

Members of the cricketing community have joined forces with charity Heartburn Cancer UK to raise awareness of oesophageal cancer following the death of former England captain Ray Illingworth.

Illingworth, who had an illustrious test, domestic and managerial career, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 89 after revealing in November that he was being treated for cancer of the oesophagus.

Following his death, several legends of England cricket, including former captains and players, have joined the charity to help raise awareness of common symptoms, particularly among men who are the most likely to be diagnosed with the disease.

Former England fast bowler Darren Gough has recently been appointed Managing Director of Cricket at Yorkshire, the team he previously captained and where Ray Illingworth began and ended his domestic career. Speaking after Ray’s death, Darren said:

“Yorkshire and English cricket have lost one of its legendary cricketers in Ray Illingworth, to a cancer that mainly affects middle-aged men, and the strongest risk factor is persistent acid reflux.? Let’s face it, there are plenty of middle-aged men who take anti-acid tablets in the world of cricket, but how many of them have ever heard of oesophageal cancer? More awareness of this cancer is desperately needed in the cricket community and wider society.”

Former England captain and Sky commentator, David Gower, played under Illingworth during the early part of his career at Leicestershire in the 1970s.

“It was sad to lose my former Captain Ray Illingworth to cancer of the oesophagus recently,” says Gower, speaking from Australia where he is currently commentating on the Ashes tour for BT sport. “I just hope that his passing may increase awareness of this awful disease, the importance of early diagnosis and how we men must not ignore symptoms like persistent heartburn or difficulty swallowing”.

Oesophageal cancer is the fourteenth most common cancer in the UK, yet it is the seventh most common cause of cancer deaths. This is because it is often diagnosed at a late stage as people who suffer with symptoms such as persistent heartburn may not believe there is anything seriously wrong and delay seeking medical advice.

Heartburn Cancer UK is a national charity which raises awareness of the dangers of persistent heartburn, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), and a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, which if undiscovered can progress to oesophageal cancer.

Chris Cowdrey, former Kent and England Cricket Captain, said:

“Early diagnosis of oesophageal cancer saves lives. The team at Heartburn Cancer UK have developed an Early Diagnosis Unit where people can be tested, which will increase rates of early diagnosis and ultimately, save lives. The UK has the highest rates of oesophageal adenocarcinoma in the world and sadly, on average 22 people die from oesophageal cancer every day.? We need to do better to make people aware of this devastating disease and we can start with cricketers, their families and friends. The average oesophageal cancer patient is a middle-aged man, there are plenty of those in cricket... including me!”

Heartburn Cancer UK is hoping that support from the cricketing community can help to raise awareness of the symptoms of oesophageal cancer and improve the early diagnosis of the disease.

Professor Tim Underwood is an oesophageal surgeon and cancer researcher at the University of Southampton and the Royal College of Surgeons of England Surgical Specialty Lead for oesophageal cancer. He is also a trustee of Heartburn Cancer UK.

“My colleagues and I see all too often the devastating effect a late diagnosis of oesophageal cancer can have,” says Professor Underwood. “Major surgery may be needed to remove the cancer, along with intensive treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy which can have debilitating and lasting side effects.

“The majority of patients we see are middle-aged men, who have often had symptoms such as persistent heartburn, but did not realise this could be a sign of something more sinister. In fact, although oesophageal cancer is the seventh most common cause of cancer death in the UK, that figure goes up to the fourth most common when you just look at the male population.”

Professor Underwood, who is a member of the MCC and has a life-long association with cricket, continues:

“There is a huge amount of research being done into how we can improve the early diagnosis of oesophageal cancer. Devices such as the ‘Cytosponge’, a sponge on a string which collects cells from the food pipe so they can be analysed for potential cancers, has already been through successful clinical trials and is now being used in some primary care settings. We are also looking at how we can better identify those most at risk of the disease.”

Mimi McCord, Chairman of Trustees at Heartburn Cancer UK, said:

“We need to make sure that people know the symptoms to look out for and get checked out by their GP if they have any concerns. My husband Michael died at just 47, nine weeks after diagnosis. He had taken antacids all our married life without us realising there could be something more seriously wrong. We are extremely grateful for the support of the cricketing community, coming together to highlight the need for better awareness, and having former England legends like Darren, David and Chris help us get this message out is fantastic.”

You can find more information on oesophageal cancer and the symptoms to look out for on the Heartburn Cancer UK website.